Read about all about different type of olives, the main varieties, the flavors and how to use them. Here is a quick guide to the major kinds of olives and what to expect from every kind.
Olives have been a part of the human diet for thousands of years, long before the canning industry, grocery stores, and martinis came into play. But a few decades ago, your average American knew only a few varieties—some were green, some were black, some were pitted, and the best ones were pimento-stuffed…and that was that.
Yet olives are fantastically diverse and equally versatile, whether ground into spreads and tapenades, tossed into salads, simmered in stews and sauces, plopped into martinis, or eaten straight out of hand. Their sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent flavors are singularly complex, making them an essential tool in any home cook’s arsenal.
They’re also historically important: their cultivation dates back millennia, and they’re written into the Mediterranean culinary canon. Olive trees are some of the oldest trees ever harvested by humans, a practice that dates back more than 8,000 years. Today, olives are grown both for their oil (but that’s another article…or a book!) and their fruit.
The trees themselves thrive in warm, subtropical zones, especially in sea air and rocky soil. Native to Syria and Asia Minor, the first olives were picked from low shrubs. It was the Assyrians who discovered that flavorful, pungent oil could be pressed from this fruit, and so they sought to cultivate and harvest the shrubby trees. With time and attention, the olive tree, or